We recently read a fascinating and insightful interview conducted by @trayce_stoenescu during Deaf Awareness Month 2019 for her IG page with @adventuresindeafed. The inspirational Deaf role model behind @adventuresindeafed is Sara Miller, a Deaf teacher of the deaf in the United States. She also runs her apparel company @languagepriority. This interview has been reproduced with the permission of the original interviewer and Sara Miller for our @DeafUnity audience.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or your family?
I was born with bilateral severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss. All of my family members are hearing. I am the only deaf person in my family. I attended a public school where I was mainstreamed. I did have exposure to SEE in the deaf Ed classroom from K-2nd grade. But when fully mainstreamed from 3rd grade on, I was oral. My parents never learned sign, but I did teach my sister sign as we shared a bedroom. But we never used it outside of our room.
Where did you get the inspiration to start your ‘Language Priority’ clothing company?
Honestly, I was tired of seeing products made by hearing individuals and companies (who are not a part of the Deaf Community) making money off of our culture and language. Oftentimes, the ASL was depicted wrong on those products because they’re not designed by a member of the Deaf Community. So, instead of simply telling people they should be aware of cultural appropriation and avoid those companies by supporting Deaf-owned businesses, I give them a place they can go to for apparel that correctly represents the Deaf Community and our language.
As a teacher of the deaf, can you explain what language deprivation is and why it’s so important to give D/HH children accessible language?
Language deprivation occurs when children do not have full access (meaning 100% of what is happening around them) to any one language. Therefore, they struggle to develop a strong foundational language which in turn can lead to cognitive, social and mental health issues. We as a society are becoming more aware of the effects of language deprivation. As a result, we must give D/HH children accessible language from birth! It is proven that signing does NOT prohibit the development of speech (so long as the child is physically capable of producing it) nor does it prevent the acquisition of the English language. Not having a solid language foundation is what prevents D/HH children from establishing proficiency in any one language.
Why are you proud to be a part of the Deaf Community?
I’m proud to be a part of the Deaf Community because it is the one place that feels like ‘HOME’. It is a community full of rich history, culture, and language. We are all so different, yet can relate to one another. Unless you are DDBDDLDHH, you cannot truly relate to our experiences. We find solace and support in others who experience life similar to us. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up oral. I had no Deaf mentors. I never met a Deaf adult until I was in college and was already an adult myself. As a result, I STRUGGLED with finding and establishing my Deaf identity. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I found that sense of HOME, upon visiting a school in Boston, that I finally felt complete.
In what ways can hearing people be allies to the Deaf Community
Hearing people can be allies to the Deaf Community by understanding, respecting, and valuing our culture and history. Amplifying our voices by listening to and sharing our experiences. Advocate for our equality and fight against oppression. We have a long way to go in terms of being seen as equal in the eyes of the hearing world. Sign languages are still seen as inferior to spoken languages. Until this mindset changes, our Deaf Community will never truly be allowed to thrive.
Why is Deaf Awareness Month important to you?
Deaf Awareness Month is important to me as it allows me to bring about awareness by sharing educational information surrounding deafness and the Deaf Community during this designated time. People tend to pay more attention during this month than others. However, I continue to share information year round, so those who follow me can continue to educate themselves and learn about the Deaf Community!
Any final thoughts?
I often get asked if I’m upset or angry that my parents never learned to sign. The answer is No. They did the best they could given where we lived (rural country with no Deaf Community) and the time period I was born in (1930’s – lack of resources for hearing parents of a deaf child were extremely limited). I had a wonderful childhood and they always made sure I was exposed to high levels of language from early on. They read to me daily and shared complex vocabulary with me. They never ‘dumbed’ it down. I just happened to be successful in acquiring language through the use of my HA’s and spoken/written English. This is not the case for everyone. In fact, my audiologists growing up had never seen anyone with my level of loss have as high of academic achievement as I did through exposure to primarily spoken English. Looking back, my parents wish they would have learned to sign. They remember how I struggled in social situations. Keeping up with conversations among large groups of family members and friends. They now realise I would have had less anxiety and pressure in those types of situations if they simply would have learned sign to ease that burden.
Check out Sara’s instagram page for regular posts about Deaf education and language. Join the trend and get your @languagepriority clothing too!
If you have an opinion on any of the subjects covered in this interview, let us know in the comments section. If you have an experience to share with the Deaf Community, and would like to be interviewed or pen your own article, then let us know.